The Tate Modern's New Art Installation: 100 Million Hand-Painted Sunflower Seeds

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The Tate Modern has housed some strange art—huge curving slides, a massive artificial sun, and a giant spider, to name a few. But its new installation is the strangest yet: a mind-boggling carpet of 100 million sunflower seeds.

The seeds, installed by Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei, come as the eleventh commission in the Tate Modern's Unilever series, which fills the museum's central Turbine Hall with big, unusual and often interactive art. Weiwei's seeds—all 100 million of them—are not actual sunflower seeds but porcelain replicas, hand-crafted and individually painted over the course of two years by some 1600 Chinese artisans.

The Guardian sheds some light on how all those seeds were created:

"Historically, the town's [Jingdezhen's] only activity has been making porcelainware for over 1,000 years. The super-high-quality skill for generations has been making imperial porcelainware," Ai said. "In modern days, however, it has become very commercialised."

Harnessing traditional craft skills, each seed was moulded, fired, and painted with three or four individual brush strokes, often by women taking the objects home to work on them. One thousand six hundred people were involved in the process. "Even taxi drivers were talking about it," he said.

"I tried to explain to [the artisans] what we wanted them for, but they found it very difficult to understand," said Ai.


The installation opens today and runs through May 2011. [Designboom and Guardian]